...... news ......

News from Year Eight

24nov2005: We had our first real, stick-to-the-ground snow overnight. After putting the bird in the oven, we went out to play in it before it all melts away. As we played around to the back of the building, our neighbor leaned aver his balcony and asked if we were playing snow bocce. We had never mentioned the game to him, so he must have surmised this from our eccentric, bocce-ish behaviour. (Cristyn won 10 to 7.)

We are continuing our roasting tour of domestic fowl. In past years, we have roasted a small turkey, a duck, and a goose. The bird this year is a capon-- a hifalutin rooster, castrated and pampered to make it fat and tender.

24dec2005: In addition to all the usual paper writing, teaching, and whatnot, the year has seen three novel projects for me: starting a webcomic, writing a textbook, and starting a blog. A couple of years ago, I wasn't planning on doing any of those things-- I planned on definitely avoiding one or two of them.

The holidays really ought to be less busy, since the term has ended and I don't have to teach again until January. Of course, they just open the door for me to be differently busy. I will be at the Eastern APA next week, representing our department in job interviews. People tell me that there is a conference every year, behind all the to and fro of the job market, but I have yet to see any of it-- the other times I've been to the Eastern, I was there to be interviewed.

In any case, happy holidays to all y'all. Love to everybody on whatever holidays you observe: Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Solstice, Human Light, or that day when you get time-and-a-half.

25dec2005: A man walks into his doctor's office and says, "Doctor, there's a fly in my soup."

The agitated doctor yells, "Help, help! Is there a waiter in the house?"

10jan2006: Cristyn and I went to the zoo yesterday, and the animals were all up ons. Rhino erections, masturbating marmosets, humping tortoises, and orgiastic monkeys. Shades of Kurt Vonnegut's Welcome to the Monkey House aside, we had a good time.

16feb2006: I remember days when I would wake up, wander over to the computer, check my e-mail, and find that there were no new messages. Not anymore.

When I check e-mail this morning, 44 messages turned up in my in-box. Of these, approximately 38 were spam. The margin of error is about 10%, since some messages are ambiguous. For example, I am counting messages from mail lists I am on as real e-mail, even if I don't care about them-- but I am counting duplicates of such messages as spam. This is after Mail has decided to junk 63 other messages as so likely to be spam that I never see them, and the server has kiboshed unknown numbers with similar certainty.

Yesterday there was a comparable amount of spam, but no real mail at all.

The time it takes to sort through all this is time I could better spend doing something else-- almost anything else-- but the thing that really bugs me is the subtle effect that deleting spam has on me. Slow and insidious, it's spam fatigue. It changes the whole way I interact with the computer. I fail to respond to e-mail in a timely way because dealing with spam just makes me want to close Mail and look at something else. I don't update the website except to complain about spam. You know, that kind of thing.

18feb2006: Since I left San Diego, I haven't found a new role-playing group. My schedule is too crazy-- I am busy at weird times, out of town for long stretches, and so on. As something of a substitute, I've been playing Hero Clix. It's a boardgame, so missing a few weeks here and there is no big deal. The company that makes it, WizKids, provides prizes for regular tournaments in gaming stores-- so finding opponents is as easy as checking the WizKids website for a local venue.

All this is to say: In the last few years, I have accumulated scenarios and other stuff for Hero Clix. In a bout of procrastination today, I put them on-line.

29mar2006: Last Friday, I misplaced my glasses. I can function pretty well without them, and I have an older pair that I could use as a spare. Although my prescription has not changed much in the ten-ish years since I got the spare pair, my taste in glasses certainly has. I got a new eye exam yesterday and have new glasses today.

These are smaller than my previous pair; that is-- in part-- a reaction to the gawky, oversized pair that I had been wearing for the last few days. As a side note, this is the first time I've been able to use the vision benefit that comes with actually having a job.

15apr2006: Cristyn and I spent last week in Budapest. She was presenting at a conference. Since I can do work as well in a Hungarian coffee shop as I can in an American coffee shop, I went along. We walked up and down Buda, saw a good bit of Pest, drank our share of Unicum, ate our share of goulash, and enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Alas, I've returned to find that the pile of things that need to be done has only grown in my absence. Classes resume tomorrow.

20apr2006: Last Sunday, Ron and Theresa had Cristyn and I over for dinner. Their son Oz enticed us into a round of Pictionary Jr. He is pretty good at it, but we Magnuses managed a victory over the Zubretsky McClamrocks. Highlights of that game included my overwrought drawing of down (left) and Cristyn's effectively concise black eye (right).

After Oz went to bed, we played some ordinary Pictionary. Ron and I teamed against Cristyn and Theresa; we lost the first game, but rallied in a second. This was my picture for the vexing prompt Middle East.

For this one, I drew the figure on the left and then the one on the right. Ron got it immediately. The eyes cinched it, he says.

Below are attempts by both teams to picture the word poem. Time ran out, and nobody got it.

8may2006: Today was the last day of instruction. Only some office hours and final exams separate me from Summer. There are a fistful of papers that need writing or vetting, some empirical enquiry to be organized, and other projects that need to be moved up from the back burners where they have been simmering.

29may2006: A couple of nights ago, Cristyn and I were watching the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Dancing Men on TV. In discerning what happened at the crime scene, Holmes (played by Jeremy Brett) searches around outside the window and finds a spent shell casing. Thus, he concludes, there must have been another gunman.

All well and good. I have seen enough John Woo movies to know about shell casings kicking out of semi-automatics, as the hero fires two pistols in slow motion. Except Holmes' other gunman was firing a revolver. From what little I know about guns, revolvers don't do that. So I suspected that the television team had just goofed.

A quick search turned up the original story. To my surprise, the scene is there in Conan Doyle's original. Holmes says, "I thought so. The revolver had an ejector, and here is the third cartridge."

More research ensued, including a chat at a coffee shop last night with someone who does some shooting and so knows something more about guns than I have learned from John Woo movies. In short, revolvers don't do that. The ejector on a revolver is a mechanism that clears spent shells when one reloads the weapon, and not a widget that leaves clues at a crime scene.

Of course, this oddity in the original story has not escaped the notice of others. One account explains it as an error in Watson's reporting of the facts. This seems altogether too realist about fictional narrators; it leads to the equally vexing question of why Conan Doyle would have Watson misreport the facts. Another account explains it as the result of the gunman crouching in the flower bed and reloading, immediately after shooting poor Mister Cubitt. It seems unlikely to me that any sensible gunman would delay his egress in such a way. Regardless, Holmes makes a point of mentioning that the revolver had an ejector; this would be irrelevant if the gunman had reloaded, because reloading a revolver means emptying out shell casings regardless of whether the revolver's got an ejector or not.

The most likely explanation, it seems to me, is that Conan Doyle had heard of ejectors but wasn't quite clear on how they operated. He included it so that Holmes could find the shell casing and sound clever. Elementary, really.

6jun2006: Happy Mark of the Beast Day, everyone!

See, it's like this. There is a marginal book overvalued by extremists that describes a dream. The elderly CS Peirce described it as the dream of a man "stung at length by persecution into a rage, unable to distinguish suggestions of evil from visions of heaven." In the dream, there are whores, bulls, blood, horsemen, and all sorts of colorful galloping around and dying. According to corrupted translations of the book, a troika of sixes appears amidst all the hubbub. And today is 6/6/06, the sixth day of the sixth month of the *mumble*two-thousand and*/mumble* sixth year.

The end is nigh! Except that the earliest extant copies of the book indicate that the number is 616. Not 666 after all. If congress can change the date of Washington's Birthday so as to suit the calendar, though, then surely fundamentalists can move the Apocalypse so as to fit their rabid numerology.

In the spirit of mashing up religious texts for aesthetic reasons, I leave you with this koan: If you meet the Christ on the road, martyr him.

[Nietzsche plays goal.] 17jun2006: A couple of years ago I desgined a two-player game about philosophers playing football. This is the soccer kind of football, not the scrimmage kind, and the philosophers in question are the French and the Germans.

I playtested the game with several different groups, including a blind playtest group in Australia. (Thanks Glen!) I hadn't done anything with it in over a year, but I played a game with Cristyn today. Germans won 2-1.

In celebration of my victory as the German team and to coincide with the World Cup, I decided to make the game available here on the website. I call it International Philosophy Grudgematch. Give it a try.

19jun2006: Late last year, I scanned all of the old Ninja Verses strips. Flexing my print-on-demand muscles, I've laid them out as an attractive collection that I call Ninja Verses: Old School. I've used the release of the book as an excuse to slack off on the webcomic. Rather than update with new material, I am running a sample strip from the book every day this week.

31jul2006: The weather has been oppressively hot and humid for a while now, leading to less work getting done than might have gotten done otherwise. On top of that, I've divided up my web fiefdoms so that less gets put here on my personal homepage than used to.

I have begun using a spam-filtering app, in lieu of the spam filtering that is built into Mail. It has very few false negatives, so I spend much less time sorting through spam than I did before. Sometimes, a whole day will go by without my seeing an ad for Vi@gra.

I looked through all of the mail that it flagged as spam for the first day or so and still spot check it occasionally. I have yet to discover a single message that was flagged as spam but should not have been. Nevertheless, zero false positives is asking too much; I still fear that something has been lost. If you sent me e-mail within the last month or so and got no response, try sending a note by way of the the comment form. We can sort out whether your e-mail is sitting in my inbox unanswered or was sifted out by the spam sieve.

Some colorful subject lines from the junk box inspired me to doodle some rogue spamusements. The one here on the left is for the subject line 'flunk severely.'

I've been helping Cristyn with some games of strategic improvisation. We have people coming over tonight to beta test. The project will get its own webpage soon; when it does, I'll link.

6sep2006: A new academic year is like a good metaphor, somehow familiar but full of potential. Classes started yesterday here at UAlbany. Since I teach MWF, I have my first class meetings in a couple of hours.

There is a short but positive review of the Ninja Verses book over at the TCU Daily Skiff.

[new shoes]19sep2006: Every several years or so, I shift between wearing sneakers most of the time and wearing sensible leather shoes most of the time. The pendulum was already swinging back toward sneakers when the oxfords that I bought at a second hand store in Middlebury fell apart. So Cristyn bought me two pair of Chuck Taylor Allstars for my birthday. I found nothing to my satisfaction at local stores, so I went to the Converse website and picked colors.

This time the shift may be permanent: Buying sensible shoes has always been hit or miss for me. About half the pairs that I buy do not fit quite right. Chucks, however, are reliably comfortable. (Except when there is too much snow, but then boots are required in any case.)

Oh yes, there was also a birthday in there. I am now thirty-two, which has for some reason been more striking that turning thirty. Perhaps the difference is that at thirty I was still on the cusp of my twenties, but thirty-two is well on into the new decade.

26sep2006: My brother has decided that it no longer makes sense to run a server in his house, so I have moved this site to different hosting. I don't begrudge him the decision, but it feels like the end of an era. (Of course, every moment is the end of an era; but some eras are more interesting than others.) I already had hosting for other stuff, like ninjaverses.com, so it was simply a matter of migrating.

The change is already made, and you are reading this from the new server. Things seem to be working. If you notice anything broken, drop me an e-mail and give me a heads up.

27sep2006: As part of the great server migration, we've decided not to keep fecundity.info. So my blog has moved. The old URL will forward for the next year or so, but you should update your bookmarks to the new address if you think you will care in fourteen months.

[October in Albany]

10oct2006: We are done with a third of the term here, which I am aware of most because of having to write and administer midterm exams. The weather is gorgeous. One imagines that the Dutch might have arrived at this time of year, given that they thought it was a good idea to settle the area.

17oct2006: It has been a while since I played a round of Google Stumping. The game goes like this: Enter any two words into Google's web search. They must be genuine English words, and you are not allowed to use quotation marks so as to specify their order or arrangement. You score a point if you can hit on a pair of words that has no matches. (I forget where I first learned this game. Someone is being slighted, for which I apologize.)

I just played a quick round and quickly scored one point: chowdery bandolier. A scoring pair of words often makes no sense, but these narrowly do: an ammo belt with the consistency of chowder.

The game is harder than the last time I played, in part because there are more documents on the web that are merely collections of words. I nearly scored with the pair trigamist biglot (a man with three wives who can speak two languages), but it yields two matches. One erroneously matches the phrase 'big lot', and the other has both words in a file called half_dictionary.txt. The promising pair brobdignagian sprezzatura (monstrously large casual style) yields 1 match, an alphabetical list of words. I can salvage these results for one point: brobdignagian trigamist, a giant with three spouses.

Also, of course, the web is getting bigger. Now that I have mentioned my success, Google will index it. In short order, there will be this match for both scoring phrases

Fecundity.com, serving all your chowdery bandolier needs since 2006.

24oct2006: Matt points out that Google Stumping is a close cousin of the more famous game Google Whacking. The goal of Google Whacking is to find a pair of words that return exactly one Google hit. Since I mentioned 'chowdery bandolier' as a Googlestumper last week, it has become a Googlewhack. There is now one hit for it; viz., this page where I mention it.

On an unrelated note, why do religious fundamentalists object to people wearing costumes on Halloween?

[The straight man-- that would be you-- replies: I don't know, why do religious fundamentalists object to people wearing costumes?]

Because the only thing they remember from high-school trigonometry is that

cos play = sin (play + pi/2)

[As the straight man, you are not expected to laugh.]